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Can I challenge a CAFCASS report?

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It is hard when a stranger is sitting in judgment over you and your relationship with your children, especially when that stranger is preparing a report that will be highly influential in the eventual outcome of child custody or contact proceedings. That’s the role of CAFCASS. It is best to cooperate with CAFCASS enquiries but if the CAFCASS report isn’t what you had hoped for, children law solicitor, Behzad Sharmin, answers your questions on whether you can challenge the CAFCASS report.

London based children and family law solicitors

If you have questions about CAFCASS enquiries or need representation in a child custody or contact application the children and family law team at OTS Solicitors are here to help. Call us on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form so we can set up a skype, video conference or telephone appointment for you with one of our friendly and approachable children law solicitors.

Is CAFCASS biased?

Many parents fear that CAFCASS is or will be biased against them. That may be because they have a perception or have read that CAFCASS always favour mothers or because they are worried that CAFCASS will automatically prefer the parent with more money and the best lifestyle or the parent who is a UK citizen and who isn’t from overseas living in the UK on a family visa struggling to make themselves understood because English is their second language.

Whatever your fear about CAFCASS bias, CAFCASS is an independent organisation. CAFCASS isn’t part of the family court or the local authority or social services department. However, whilst CAFCASS is independent of the court it does report to the court and will speak to social workers, teachers or other professionals ,where relevant, as part of its enquiries.

When to challenge CAFCASS

If you don’t want CAFCASS to prepare a section 7 report within your children law proceedings you can object to the preparation of a report. The judge may agree with you that a section7 report is not necessary or the judge could decide that a report should be prepared.

It is best to take legal advice before deciding whether to object to a CAFCASS report as whilst some parents automatically assume CAFCASS will be prejudiced against them (for example, because of their previous drug or alcohol issues or because they have a criminal conviction) that isn’t necessarily the case. Sometimes it can be in your best interests to get a CAFCASS report as the report should focus on your child’s needs and what is best for them. A positive CAFCASS report may mean you are far likely to reach an agreement with the other parent or secure the child arrangement order or the specific issue order that you are asking for.

Should I cooperate with CAFCASS?

If you didn’t want a CAFCASS report but the court goes ahead and orders one then do you have to cooperate with CAFCASS? You may think that the outcome of the court proceedings should be obvious because your children don’t want to see their father but failing to cooperate with CAFCASS could potentially lead to questions about why you won't engage. For example, do the children not want to see their father because of parental alienation?

Whether you decide to cooperate or not, CAFCASS will try to carry out enquiries and report. If you have not been interviewed because you refused to cooperate then the court may draw adverse inferences and you won't have had your say with CAFCASS.

It is easy to be upset if CAFCASS are involved with your family and you didn’t want them to be or angry because of how trapped or powerless you feel in the court process. However, the time to challenge CAFCASS isn’t when they are trying to carry out enquiries and prepare a report. Try to ensure that you are in the right frame of mind when you speak to CAFCASS as your fear for your children and your feelings of stress can come across as anger or bitterness and that won't help with the CAFCASS report.

When speaking to CAFCASS it is best to focus on your children and frame your answers to questions around your child’s needs. For example, you may think that your ex is a violent person who should not be anywhere near children because of the domestic violence you experienced during the relationship. However, look at answering the question about child contact from the point of view of your child. What is it about contact with your ex that makes your child anxious? Is it that your child witnessed the violence or are they picking up on your anxieties? How does contact affect the child’s schooling or their behaviour? For example, if you hate your ex because they went off with a new partner leaving you saddled with the kids, why do you want to stop contact? Is it because you hate your ex or because your ex lets the children down and doesn’t turn up for contact half the time or arrives late?

How you approach the CAFCASS enquiries may affect whether you are in agreement with the CAFCASS report or not and whether you want to challenge it.

Can you challenge a CAFCASS report?

A CAFCASS report can be challenged. Even if you agree with the report conclusions the judge may not do so. Generally speaking, a judge will normally follow a recommendation in a CAFCASS report unless there are good reasons not to do so. That’s because a CAFCASS report can assess and report on what outcome they consider to be in a child’s best interests and make recommendations but CAFCASS can't decide what children orders should be made. That is the judge’s decision.

Faced with a negative CAFCASS report or a recommendation that you don’t agree with it is best to take specialist legal advice on your options and how best to challenge the CAFCASS report. For example, you might ask for permission to instruct an expert, ask for an addendum CAFCASS report to address matters not covered in the original report or ask that the CAFCASS report author attends the final hearing so that they can be asked questions about their enquiries and recommendation. For example, you may challenge the report recommendation as CAFCASS didn’t observe a contact visit between you and your child and so have based their no contact recommendation on the other parent’s assertion that there is no meaningful relationship between you and your child.

Most children law solicitors say that challenging a CAFCASS report isn’t easy and it is therefore best to try to work with CAFCASS to try to get a report that you are happy with. If you can't achieve that then it is normally best to challenge a CAFCASS report using a bit of subtlety, with the challenge focussed on whether the recommendations are actually in the best interests of your child.

London based children and family law solicitors

If you need help with making or replying to a children court application then the children and family law team at OTS Solicitors are here to advise and represent you and to answer your children law questions. Call us on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form so we can set up a skype, video conference or telephone appointment for you with one of our friendly and approachable children law solicitors.

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